Eclipse champion Older Male and Horse of the Year Saint Liam

Eclipse champion Older Male and Horse of the Year Saint Liam

Skip Dickstein

Saint Liam Voted Horse of the Year Honors; Also Top Older Male

In the fall of 2004, following Saint Liam's victory in the Clark Handicap (gr. II), the colt's trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr., owners William and Suzanne Warren, and racing manager Mark Reid mapped out a campaign for 2005 with the ultimate goal being an Horse of the Year title.

It would have seemed to any outsider an ambitious goal, especially with Ghostzapper, Roses in May, and Rock Hard Ten all scheduled to race in 2005. But Dutrow was still stinging over Saint Liam's neck defeat to Ghostzapper in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I), a race Dutrow felt strongly he'd win and believed he would have won had Saint Liam not drifted out through the race.

"Rick told me before the race he thought he'd beat Ghostzapper," Reid recalled. "I was stunned when he said that. But that's Rick."

To make matters worse, Dutrow was unable to run Saint Liam in the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) after the son of Saint Ballado "fell apart" following his grueling race in the Woodward.

Even after Ghostzapper turned in a brilliant performance to win the Classic in stakes-record time, Dutrow still felt he had the better horse and couldn't wait to take his revenge on Ghostzapper in 2005.

The plan would have Saint Liam run approximately six times, with the main targets being the grade I Whitney, Woodward, and Breeders' Cup Classic, with each race bringing him one step closer to Horse of the Year honors.

Dutrow, who took over the training of the Edward P. Evans-bred colt in the fall of 2003, sent out Saint Liam for his 5-year-old debut in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) against Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up Roses in May. Not only did Saint Liam beat Roses in May by 3 ¾ lengths, he toyed with him in the stretch, winning in a common gallop. Step one had been completed.

Step two did not go quite as smoothly. Saint Liam was shipped to California for the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), and although he went off as the even-money favorite, he came up empty, finishing sixth, four lengths behind Rock Hard Ten.

"He didn't show up the right way in California," Dutrow said. "Edgar (Prado) told me when they opened the gate he started getting in. He said, 'Rick, this horse is much better than these horses. He didn't even run his race and he still only got beat four lengths.' "

Not wanting to drop him back to a one-turn mile, Dutrow skipped the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) to point for the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I). Even when Ghostzapper romped in the Met, Dutrow still couldn't wait for a rematch with the defending Horse of the Year. But it would never come, as Ghostzapper was retired shortly after due to a chip fracture.

Horse of the Year was then wide open, and Saint Liam jumped right back to the top of the leading contenders list with an impressive 2 ¾-length victory in the Stephen Foster.

The final push for the title began in the Whitney, but Saint Liam ran into a speeding bullet in the brilliant Commentator, who opened a big lead and tried to run the field into the ground. Saint Liam was left with too much ground to make up, and although he dug down and closed relentlessly in the final sixteenth, he fell a neck short.

With only two races left on his schedule, he had to win them both to pretty much secure the Horse of the Year title. Not wanting a repeat of the previous year's Woodward when Saint Liam knocked himself out eyeballing Ghostzapper, Dutrow ran two rabbits in the Woodward to soften up Commentator and give Saint Liam as easy a race as possible.

"I just wanted him to gallop around there," Dutrow said. "The last thing I wanted was for him to have a tough race, so that's why I put those other two horses in."

The rabbits did their job, double-teaming Commentator and forcing him into a brutal half in :45.40. With new jockey Jerry Bailey aboard, Saint Liam picked up the pieces and cruised to a ridiculously easy two-length win over Sir Shackleton, who finished 12 ½ lengths ahead of his exhausted stablemate, Commentator.

With Saint Liam in control of his own destiny, he nailed down Horse of the Year honors by overcoming a bad post and defeating Flower Alley by a length in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

The best-laid plans in this case had worked to perfection.

Voting for Horse of the Year:
Saint Liam, 194; Afleet Alex, 56; Ghostzapper, 1; Lost in the Fog, 1; Rock Hard Ten, 1; Roses in May, 1. Voter Abstentions, 8.

Voting for Older Male:
>Saint Liam, 250; Ghostzapper 5; Rock Hard Ten, 3; Roses in May, 1; Voter Abstentions, 3.